Today, Dr. Juan Delgado took a few minutes to answer some students’ questions about energy and climate change. Dr. Delgado is the Chief Economist for the Spanish National Commission for Competition, and was a panelist at our recent G-20 Student Summit. For his complete bio, please look here (pdf).
Question from Italy: In 1987 Italian people voted against nuclear plants as an alternative energy source. Nowadays our current government is evaluating the possibility to use this kind of energy source. Some experts in physics are convinced that this choice is out-of-date. What’s your opinion about this ? And what would be the energy OF THE FUTURE ?
Dr. Juan Delgado: After the accident of the Chernóbyl nuclear stations, many countries decided to re-think their policy regarding nuclear energy. As you say, Italy decided after a referendum to ban nuclear energy. Nowadays, nuclear technology has progressed and it is much safer than 20 years ago. Chernobyl-type nuclear plants have been shut down. But there still a concern: nuclear waste. Nuclear energy is clean regarding carbon emissions, abundant regarding availability of resources but there is still the issue of what to do with nuclear waste (though progress has been done). As with many problems, there is no white and black and trade-offs have to be evaluated. What is clear is that it is difficult to replace nuclear energy and decrease emissions (renewables are not an alternative since they are intermittent).
The energy of the future? There is not a single technology: we need them all, ie a portfolio of technologies. As I said it is difficult to replace nuclear energy (Italy does not produce nuclear energy but imports electricity from France which is mostly produced in nuclear plants), we need to make the most of renwables (wind, solar, photovoltaics, tidal energy), we need to develop technologies to capture the carbon produced by gas/coal/fuel-oil existing plants and we need to continue doing research to find new sources of clean and efficient energy (hydrogen?).
Question from students in the Pittsburgh area: What do you think is a proper agreement between countries to fight climate change and its role on the global economy? Also, do you believe we need strict rules or general guidelines concerning climate change and the economy, and who would help enforce them?
Dr. Juan Delgado: Thanks for your interesting but difficult question: Such an agreement should be a scientifically sound, economically rational and politically pragmatic. Scientifically sound in the sense that it should be based on rigorous scientific conclusions. Economically rational in the sense that we should optimise resources in order to do more with less money. Politically pragmatic in the sense that has to provide sufficient incentives for countries to take part in the agreement. This equation is not easy. This agreement will affect the economy but the cost of not acting will be by far much higher than the costs of the necessary policies. As you point, enforcement is a problem: at the moment there are no enforcement mechanisms other than the public embarrassment of not having complied with the objectives. We should think of a system of sanctions for not compliance but for that we need strong international institutions governing the process. This is one of the problems of implementing a climate agreement: it relies basically on the good-will of individual countries. You can find more info at http://www.bruegel.org/uploads/tx_btbbreugel/climate_book_0909_14_website.pdf